Outlook Issue 25 Spring 2018
News and Views from St. Mary's Woodbridge
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Nature Notes
The early flowers do not suddenly appear, but emerge, slowly, gathering momentum, as the sun dictates. Snowdrops, pure white. Primroses – ‘the first rose’, languid and pale –bathe in the sun’s warmth. And Ophelia, to her brother, speaks of Hamlet, ‘Himself the primrose path of dalliance treads.’ On the heath, the Gorse is always in flower, bright yellow, blooming in every season. The frail and delicate Wood Anemone, slim stemmed, hangs in the breeze, and earns the soubriquet ‘windflower’. Yellow flowers attract the early insects and bees. Amongst these blooms, the Celandine stands, and ‘shrinks like many more from cold and rain’, writes Wordsworth. Herbalist Culpepper used this plant to cure his daughter of ‘King’s Evil’ (Scrofula). From under the carpet of fallen oak leaves, the Violet emerges. The Sweet Violet (Viola ordorata, pictured) has long been the scent of love. It is the flower of Aphrodite, and symbol of Athens. The Common Dog Violet, with its name dating from the sixteenth century, is considered to be an inferior form of Violet. Floral poetry Wild flowers fuel our culture, inspire artists, poets and writers of prose. Wordsworth – poet of nature, John Clare – peasant poet, and Andrew Young – priest, poet and botanist, all wrote floral poetry. More recently, academic Robert Macfarlane, in his new book The Lost Words, draws our attention to the disappearance of natural history words. There is a general loss of dialect words, and no longer are flowers referred to by their local names: Cow Parsley known as Cow Mumble, Kingcup as Yellow Blobs… Increasingly, our nation becomes urban dwellers; tenuous links with rural speech and words fall away. Fewer people grow up inheriting local speech and rustic awareness to match rural words, or a love of the countryside. Many flowers embrace animal names: Sheep Sorrel, Ox Eye Daisy, Foxglove… or bird names: Crowfoot, Cuckoo Flower, Ragged Robin. Many flowers kept people healthy, and were widely used to prevent or cure ailments. The early summer water plant Marsh Mallow, fed to infants, eased their teething problems. Masticated, the juicy plant cured digestive disorders. But some flowers, such as Henbane and Hemlock, are poisonous. One of the joys of botany is that, unlike birds and animals, flowers remain rooted, and thus make for easier identification and familiarisation. Is this how we should live? Remember the words from Jesus in St Matthew 6.28: Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Michael Stagg